Thursday, 25 May 2017

A Star Wars Story



A long time ago... 40 years to be exact. Star Wars was released in America.

Now, I wouldn't see George Lucas' space opera until early 1978. But, that's for context as Star Wars hadn't opened in the UK when I was admitted into children's hospital, following a serious head injury in primary school, in October 1977.

I remember the American neurosurgeon - who saved my life alongside a talented, international, team - saying I had to promise him I'd see Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and gave me a poster of R2-D2 and C-3PO as a parting gift!

The promise was kept.



A few months after being discharged from hospital, I moved house with my folks, an uncle gifted me a copy of John Williams' Star Wars soundtrack LP and an aunt gifted me an R2-D2 action figure for Christmas. Each lunchtime at home (the primary school I was moved to wouldn't accept liability outside of classroom hours) I'd eat a bacon sandwich (or similar snack), play the soundtrack, and let my imagination soar as R2-D2 embarked on another secret mission.

Then in early 1978, aged 5, mum took me to see Star Wars at Odeon Exeter. Dad had to carry me up a flight of stairs (I was wheelchair bound at the time). Once we'd been shown to our seats, by helpful staff, a mother and young daughter appeared. Mum was a warm lady and was asked if she would keep an eye on the daughter during the movie? As always, she was more than happy to oblige and I had a new friend with which to share this inaugural cinematic experience with.

Suffice it to say, the next few hours were mesmerising. From dancers, dressed as characters from Star Wars dancing to the disco arrangement, to the destruction of the Death Star underscored by John Williams' ode to Erich Korngold and Gustav Holst's The Planets to medals bestowed on our heroes. By the film's finale, I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Either become a Jedi or filmmaker - both, but that's between us. I said goodbye to my Star Wars buddy and then noticed she'd left her combe behind. Dutifully, I told mum, but the girl had gone...



In the wake of seeing Star Wars, I'd graduated into becoming a film geek for life. Marvel's "making of" magazine, with a cover featuring poster art by the Hildebrandt brothers, fell to bits (it was read daily). Cinema trips became a school holiday treat.



Collecting Star Wars action figures and accessories meant Star Wars was every day, friendships forged (many of which last to this day) and playground adventures shared. Amassed quite a collection from Star Wars to Return of the Jedi. My favourite toys included 12" Boba Fett, AT-AT Walker, Imperial Troop Transport, Darth Vader's Star Destroyer action playset and an Imperial Shuttle.

As much as I wanted to play the hero, the Empire always looked cooler to me. Because Stormtroopers, Darth Vader and Boba Fett. Fun fact: I thought Stormtroopers were robots until The Empire Strikes Back!

From the age of 5 until 17, I was an outpatient undergoing rehabilitation for head trauma. Whilst there would be times I'd feel alienated (who doesn't?), Star Wars remained a constant force (pun intended) for inspiration. If a farm boy could become a Jedi, then I could learn to walk again and help others.

In 1997, whilst working as an online journalist, I was interviewed for a BBC documentary commemorating the 20th anniversary of Star Wars. Lucasfilm, now owned by Disney, decided to drop the fan segment. But, I'll always be determined to make a contribution to the franchise's legacy in some small way. Further to this, I worked on The Gemini Apes starring Sir Christopher Lee. Lee would go on to play Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequels.

Last summer was momentous. With a close friend, I met Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) and Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) at Star Wars Celebration Europe. Five year old me would never have believed it. Profoundly poignant in view of Fisher's death last December.

Next month marks the tenth anniversary of mum's death due to medical trauma. Star Wars was given an honourable mention during her funeral service. So, today I'll watch the original trilogy in mum's memory.

Through the good times and bad, Star Wars is without doubt the defining film in my life. Thank you, George Lucas! Hope springs eternal.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Vanity Fair goes behind-the-scenes of The Last Jedi



Fresh from publishing four variant covers to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Star Wars this week. Vanity Fair goes behind-the-scenes of Star Wars: The Last Jedi with exclusive photos, taken by Annie Leibovitz, and a video.



Fans get their first glimpse of Laura Dern and Benicio Del Toro, playing Vice Admiral Holdo and DJ respectively, in The Last Jedi.

Dern strikes an imperious pose, in stark contrast to her character's link to the Resistance, that evokes the opulent prequels. She recently attended a scoring session for The Last Jedi reuniting the Jurassic Park actress with composer John Williams.



Del Toro is channelling a Replicant from Ridley Scott's Blade Runner.



Director Rian Johnson gives an insight into his approach to the Star Wars sequel, saying, “I started by writing the names of each of the characters, and thinking, ‘What’s the hardest thing they could be faced with?'”

On the subject of Rey’s training parallelling Luke's on Dagobah, Johnson teases, “There’s a training element to it, but it’s not exactly what you would expect.”

It's heartbreaking when Kathleen Kennedy suggests Carrie Fisher may have had a bigger role in Episode IX, which closes the Star Wars sequel trilogy. “The minute she finished, she grabbed me and said, ‘I’d better be at the forefront of IX!’” Kennedy remembers. “Because Harrison was front and center on VII, and Mark is front and center on VIII. She thought IX would be her movie. And it would have been.”

Be sure to visit Vanity Fair for the full story here.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is released in cinemas on 15th December.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Vanity Fair covers the 40th anniversary of Star Wars



Annie Leibovitz has photographed Star Wars actors since capturing the cast of The Phantom Menace in 1999. Subsequently the famed photographer's lavish photo shoots have become a tradition.

Now, Vanity Fair has released four variant covers to commemorate the 40th anniversary of George Lucas' space opera.

The first is Rey and Luke, the second is Captain Phasma, Kylo Ren, and General Hux, the third is Poe Dameron, Finn, and Rose Tico, and the fourth is General Leia. Most notably Carrie Fisher has a cover all of her own. This is in tribute to the late actress and her final appearance in the upcoming The Last Jedi.

The grouping of characters suggests the story structure of The Empire Strikes Back.

Leibovitz’s full photo shoot will be online Wednesday, along with a story on the making of Rian Johnson's upcoming sequel to The Force Awakens.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi arrives in cinemas 15th December.

Monday, 22 May 2017

A Stormtrooper story in Star Wars Battlefront II



Star Wars Battlefront was a gorgeous game, but lacked a single player campaign. The upcoming sequel appears to address this with a story mode focussing on Imperial forces in the wake of the destruction of the second Death Star in Return of the Jedi.

Star Wars Battlefront II will follow Iden Versio (Janina Gavankar), commander of Inferno Squad an Imperial special forces unit, from the end of Return of the Jedi to The Force Awakens.

A new developer diary, posted on the official PlayStation YouTube channel, chronicles the production of Star Wars Battlefront II and Lucasfilm Story Group's involvement in the creative process.



Incidentally, Amazon Prime members can read Official PlayStation Magazine for free using the Kindle app. Star Wars Battlefront II is featured in the latest issue.

Stay tuned for further coverage of Star Wars Battlefront II during E3.

Star Wars Battlefront II is out on 17th November for PS4, Xbox One and PC.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Tom Hardy cast in Spider-Man spin-off Venom



Tom Hardy, fresh from reading a bedtime story on CBBC, is playing Eddie Brock in Sony's upcoming Spider-Man spin-off. Venom.

Whilst Hardy's casting as the alien symbiote was met with enthusiasm. He played DC Comics' Bane in Chris Nolan's The Dark Knight Trilogy. News the spin-off is not directly linked to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), possibly precluding a face-off against Tom Holland's Spider-Man, is a fly in the ointment. However, it would be a surprising missed opportunity, by the studio, in the wake of so much goodwill following Captain America: Civil War.

Venom was last seen on the big screen in Sam Raimi's middling Spider-Man 3 in 2007. Sony's gambling on Spider-Man: Homecoming successfully rebooting the franchise and there's a PlayStation exclusive Spider-Man video game to promote, too. More news on the latter at E3. Hopefully.

Venom, directed by Ruben Fleischer, will usher in further spin-offs. Is the comic book cinematic universe in danger of further brand dilution? I stopped reading comics in the mid 1990s as it became expensive and, frankly, a chore to follow Marvel's or DC Comics' increasingly fractured, commercially cynical, universes. This has now transferred to film and television adaptations, where I've stopped following franchises. Because bored.

This may appear frivolous on my part and I'm no stranger to a time when geeks didn't have the luxury of Hollywood's current superhero stable featuring multi-movie story arcs and infinite reboots.

Production begins on Venom later this year with a release date of 5th October 2018. Perhaps in time for the launch of PlayStation 5. Tom, would you mind signing one for me?

Friday, 19 May 2017

A prequel to The Dark Crystal is coming to Netflix



Netflix has announced a prequel series to Jim Henson's classic tale The Dark Crystal.

Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is set many years prior to the events depicted in the 1982 movie that pushed the boundaries of animatronics within a divided world, Thra, that evoked J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth. The Gelflings are caught up in a battle between the peaceful Mystics and power-hungry Skeksis.

Frank Oz co-directed The Dark Crystal with Jim Henson and, as a fledgling film fan, it was impossible not to be acutely aware of story similarities between The Dark Crystal and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi the following summer. Mythological tropes I'd actively seek out evermore.

Information regarding the upcoming 10-part prequel series is scant. However, Netflix released a teaser trailer that has captured fans imaginations around the world.



Director Louis Leterrier (Clash of the Titans) will executive produce the series and direct. Leading the writing are co-executive producers Jeffrey Addiss, Will Matthews, and Javier Grillo-Marxuach (The 100).

“Louis Leterrier is passionate about the world of ‘The Dark Crystal’ and has an incredible creative vision for the series,” said Lisa Henson, CEO of The Jim Henson Company. “He brings this passion to every facet of the production as he leads the talented team of artists and writers that are bringing this entire universe to life. Netflix has a deep respect for my father’s original work and the many people it inspired. They are the perfect partners to create this next epic chapter in ‘The Dark Crystal’ story for new fans and the loyal fans who have waited so long for more adventures from this world.”

Trevor Jones' soundtrack for The Dark Crystal remains a touchstone, and I hope the prequel series will reprise those memorable motifs from Jim Henson's world of wonder...

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Star Trek: Discovery is live-action Mass Effect



The first trailer for Star Trek: Discovery has dropped on Netflix. The upcoming prequel series takes place a decade before the adventures of Kirk, Spock and Bones in the original Star Trek.



The Klingons have undergone a CGI makeover, which may be divisive, and Sarek, Spock's father, has a pivotal role to play. Discovery isn't short of interpersonal conflict, but a return to exploration and a sense of wonder, a hallmark of the franchise, is welcome in the wake of the big screen Star Trek reboot with which this isn't directly connected.

However, Discovery seems more a part of the Paramount Pictures cinematic universe than the original series and it could double as a Mass Effect live-action series. The latter unashamedly borrowed from the former. So, we've come full circle. Will Sonequa Martin Green (The Walking Dead) channel FemShep?

Star Trek: Discovery's inaugural season, running for 15 episodes, is coming to CBS All Access and Netflix outside the US this Fall.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 this November



LEGO video games are becoming an annual treat for this brick fan in the wake of recent releases LEGO Jurassic World and LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Whilst I missed out on the first installment of LEGO Marvel Super Heroes in 2013. The newly announced sequel is going to be competing for playtime with Star Wars: Battlefront II this November.

Watch the teaser trailer for LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 featuring Baby Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy.



“With a completely original branching storyline, LEGO® Marvel Super Heroes 2 introduces amazing new gameplay features, including the ability for characters to manipulate time and a four-player competitive Super Hero battling mode,” said Tom Stone, Managing Director, TT Games. “With a huge array of brand new characters from the Marvel universe, including old favourites in new guises, this game is sure to thrill both LEGO® and Marvel fans, as well as newcomers to the series.”

“The LEGO® Group is delighted to continue the stories of the legendary Marvel characters in a new LEGO® adventure,” said Sean McEvoy, VP Digital Games, The LEGO® Group. “Fans young and old will love playing through this all-new cosmic saga spanning the Marvel Universe as seen through the LEGO® lens.”

“As we look to bring amazing games to Marvel fans of all ages, we’ve teamed up yet again with our incredible partners at LEGO, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and TT Games,” said Jay Ong, SVP, Games & Innovation, Marvel Entertainment. “LEGO® Marvel Super Heroes 2 brings characters from across Marvel’s history into an original story told in a way that only LEGO games can, offering hours of epic gameplay.”

LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 will be released for PS4, PS4 Pro, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC on 14th November.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

The Orville channels Star Trek spoof Galaxy Quest



The Star Trek franchise has been affectionately lampooned in popular culture for decades. From Futurama to Galaxy Quest. Now, Seth MacFarlane embarks on a galactic odyssey in The Orville on Fox this Fall.

The humour evokes Galaxy Quest, a movie I adore, as evidenced by this trailer.



The pilot is directed by genre stalwart Jon Favreau (Iron Man). So, the series has pedigree and could fill the void as fans await Star Trek: Discovery on CBS All Access and Netflix outside the US.

Looking forward to The Orville? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Marvel's mutants unleashed in The Gifted



Marvel and Fox have dropped an extended trailer for The Gifted.

The upcoming X-Men spin-off, with a pilot directed by Bryan Singer (X-Men: Apocalypse), isn't a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) over at Disney.



The Gifted joins Legion at Fox this Fall. The channel goes up against The CW with its DC Comics superhero stable including Arrow, DC's Legends of Tomorrow, The Flash and Supergirl. The multiverse goes from strength to strength and DC's Legends of Tomorrow transformed in the wake of new cast members and a soft reboot during its second series.

Could The Gifted lead to further X-Men spin-offs featuring Cyclops or Storm? Let me know in the comments below.